Japanese Inari Fox Collection Given to Starr Library

(NEW YORK, June 4, 2009) Dr. Karen A. Smyers, author of The Fox and the Jewel: Shared and Private Meaning in Contemporary Japanese Inari Worship, has donated her Inari/Fox Collection to the C. V. Starr East Asian Library. The core of the collection consists of well over 400 fox statues ranging in size from one inch to almost two feet high.


In addition to the fox statues, the collection also includes Buddhist and Shinto representations of the deity Inari in the form of pictorial images, including woodblock prints and scrolls, scrapbooks, ema (votive plaques), masks and miscellaneous devotional items. The pictoral items are unique, as typically this type of item is systematically burned or buried when returned to a shrine or temple.

Dr. Smyers received the items from Shinto and Buddhist priests at several major centers. The collection includes non-devotional folk items such as Fushimi ningyo and decorative masks. Some pieces have dated dedications on them. Departmental faculty have actively assisted in getting the collection for the Starr Library, and several of them have already expressed interest in making use of the collection in their teaching and research.

“Like many of my colleagues, I am excited that the foxes have made their nest at the Starr Library,” said Gregory Pflugfelder, associate professor at Columbia’s Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures. “The brilliant thing about them is the wide range of fields they can help us to think and teach about: not just religion, but cultural history, folklore, anthropology, art, literature, film, and so forth. Their presence will make a real difference in the classroom.”

The fox statues are to be permanently housed on shelves in Starr Library’s Rare Book and Special Collections Reading Room where they will be on public view during that room’s regular hours.

The C.V. Starr East Asian Library is one of the major collections for the study of East Asia in the United States, with over 820,000 volumes of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Tibetan, and Western language materials, as well as some holdings in Mongol and Manchu, and over 6,500 periodical titles. The collection, established in 1902, is particularly strong in Chinese history, literature, and social sciences; Japanese literature, history, and religion, particularly Buddhism; and Korean history. The Library’s website is located at: www.columbia.edu/cu/lweb/indiv/eastasian/.

Columbia University Libraries/Information Services is one of the top five academic research library systems in North America. The collections include over 10 million volumes, over 100,000 journals and serials, as well as extensive electronic resources, manuscripts, rare books, microforms, maps, graphic and audio-visual materials. The services and collections are organized into 25 libraries and various academic technology centers. The Libraries employs more than 550 professional and support staff. The website of the Libraries at www.columbia.edu/cu/lweb is the gateway to its services and resources.